By Cliodhna O’Sullivan – 1 week volunteer
As a group of nine girls, with a mixture of backgrounds Ireland, England and France, we had absolutely no idea what we were going to be faced with coming into the rural Karen tribe. Having already travelled other parts of Thailand, we were semi aware of certain traditions but nothing of this level. Our main concerns were mainly to do with the toilets and showers, which is no surprise at all. We had crossed paths with the squat toilets before but did our best to avoid them where we could. We had not yet mastered the technique required for their proper use. As regards showering, we made a conscious effort to detach ourselves from the love of our hot power showers we are so used to.
The night prior to departure, we met with the staff who talked us through our visit and our adventures we were to face. They spoke about certain traditions from the village we had to abide by. One of which was that you could not walk through a circle, as it was considered rude by breaking the circle. We were told that villagers would make a considerable detour to avoid breaking a circle. I sat there with a slightly bewildered face as I had never heard of such a tradition. Other traditions included, taking your shoes off before entering any building, you were not allowed to walk over food that was on the floor, no pointing at something with your feet and they found touching of their heads was also rude. Another massive point that we had to take note of was that our shoulders and down to at least our knees had to be covered. The thought that ran through of my head initially was, how am I going to survive the heat and the sweating that would follow? As a group, we had all already struggled to keep as a cool and as sweat-free as possible. We quickly accepted our fate as we stocked up on t-shirts and longer trousers.
Upon arrival to the Karen village, we were all split up into our homestays that were going to look after us for the week. I was placed in the home of Jackapong along with another girl. We each had our room which was equipped with bed, mattress, mosquito net, some hanging space for clothes and a kitten and puppy named Oreo and Narak respectively. That evening, after we had settled in, we cooked dinner with our homestays. I was tasked with chopping potatoes and cabbage. As silly as it sounds, I had never chopped cabbage in my life so I was very surprised when the homestay lashed down on the cabbage with an almighty force with a machete. The final array of food that they presented had a flavour that was like no Thai food I had ever tasted. It was amazing!
As we settled in for the night, I was slightly nervous as I was surrounded by an abundance of unfamiliar sounds. Nevertheless, the long days travelling and pent up excited nerves had me completely zonked within a matter of minutes. We had been forewarned about the roosters who start their morning song at approximately 3am.
I awoke at 7am the next day, the rest of the village had been up for two to three hours already. As we set off for our morning hike, the homestay provided myself and the other girl in the homestay with our lunches for that afternoon. Similar to the dinners from the evening before, the portions were of monstrous proportions. Not that I am complaining in the slightest!
From my initial impression, the homestays thoroughly enjoy having visitors such as ourselves. The thoughtfulness and care they provide makes it hundreds of times easier to be in such a foreign culture, which is honestly worlds apart from what we are brought up in.